Each year Toronto After Dark highlights Canadian and International short films that cover a wide array of genres and subject matters. Here are our thoughts on a few of the shorts we have seen at the festival.
In the action packed short film Awesome Runaway!! director Benjamin de Los Santos offers very little answers to the questions he raises. The audience may never know why a battered man is being interrogated by seemingly nefarious individuals? Or why the well-dressed thugs have injected him with a serum that his body clearly has an unpleasant reaction to? However, once the man begins his escape, none of this matters because for a glorious seven minutes Awesome Runway!! provides a whirlwind mixture of butt-kicking action and absurdist humour. Los Santos merely asks viewers to sit back and enjoy the ride of head-popping fisticuffs and acid filled body fluids. Capping it all off with an ingenious ending, Awesome Runaway!! is a crowd-pleaser in every sense of the word.
Ellie (Sharon Belle) and Joseph (Alexander Plouffe) have figured out that they have irrational triggers that instantly send their hormones raging. Arbitrary things such as running out of mouthwash or hearing that special piece of classical music make them hornier than rabbits in heat. Friends for a long time, neither is willing to admit that their relationship has the potential to evolve into something more. However, when they find a series of photos, which seemingly highlight a future together they never imagined, they begin to wonder if supernatural forces are attempting to force them together. Finding a truly innovated, and at times humorously disgusting, way of adding a horror twist to the notion of friends with benefits, Nate Wilson’s short film is a devilish treat. Sharon Belle and Alexander Plouffe do a magnificent job of keeping the oddly romantic narrative at Fuck Buddies’ core at the forefront. Their grounded performances are especially impressive considering the number of over-the-top gags – at times the film borders on Japanese anime style body horror- that threaten to overpower the film. Though Ellie rejects the notion of a woman being tied down by the trappings of a traditional relationship, and Joseph never seems to have the manly stones to match his large appendage, Belle and Plouffe ensure that the audience is never in doubt that their bond is more powerful than anything that the supernatural forces may throw at them.
In Simon Cartwright’s animated short Manoman, a meek man finds it hard to express the rage that is growing inside him like a tumor. After his experience at a Primal Therapy class does not go as planned, the man has no alternative but to physically let go of the turmoil within. Throwing up the entity in a bathroom stall, the man is surprised to see his rage manifest from the toilet as a naked “mini-me” intent on causing chaos wherever it goes. Playing like a puppet version of Fight Club, Cartwright crafts a captivating exploration of modern masculinity. Manoman highlights the false and misguided nature of manhood in a rather engaging way. The film adequately takes a piss, quite literally at one point, on those who foolishly think that indulging in their primal desires is a sign of being a real man. Forgoing dialogue, Cartwright simply lets the vivid imagery convey the narrative. By the end of the film he leaves the audience with the beautifully perverse image of men worshipping in chorus an ideal vision of masculinity that is nothing more than juvenile wish fulfillment.
Alex Mullen’s wonderful and surprisingly touching film Chasing Death is as deceptive as its opening sequence. The film starts off with the haunting image of an old man about to be taken by the grim reaper. Before you can bat an eye Mullen pulls the rug out from under death, and the audience, to expose that it is all an elaborate police sting. This sets in motion a Fugitive style chase as death does everything in its power to evade the relentless cop pursing it. Just when the audience thinks the film will be nothing more than an engaging action-comedy, Mullen unsuspectingly hits them with one heck of an emotional punch. Proving himself to be a confident storyteller Mullen displays a lot of potential with Chasing Death. He takes a concept that could have easily been a one-note comedy and turned it into a film that truly resonates with the viewer.
What lengths would you go to for the one you love? That is the central question that permeates Steven McCarthy’s hauntingly beautiful O Negative. The film follows a man (played by McCarthy) as he moves from town to town trying to keep his girlfriend (Alyx Melone), who is a vampire, satisfied. This primarily means cruising around in hopes of finding food, often in the form of single women, such as the lady (Sandra Forsell) he stalks at a local bar, to quench his lover’s thirst. While McCarthy’s film is light on actual dialogue it is rich in substance. His film unfolds slowly allowing his actors to revel in the narratives chilling, yet romantic, tone. McCarthy himself is exceptionally good as the man who is almost a slave to love. Though at times his character appears uncomfortable with the burden he must bear, McCarthy ensures that the man’s unwavering love remains prominent. Stark and beautiful at the same time, O Negative is a film worth sinking your teeth into.